Biden and Netanyahu speak as pressure grows on Israel over Rafah invasion

Biden and Netanyahu speak as pressure grows on Israel over Rafah invasion
  • PublishedApril 29, 2024

US President Joe Biden has again spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as pressure builds on Israel and Hamas to reach a deal that would free some Israeli hostages and bring a ceasefire in the nearly seven-month-long war in Gaza. 

The White House said Mr Biden reiterated his “clear position” that it opposes Israel’s plans to invade Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah despite global concern for more than one million Palestinians sheltering there.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is returning to the Middle East on Monday.

Mr Biden also stressed that progress in delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza should be “sustained and enhanced,” according to the statement.

It was less stark than the leaders’ previous call this month, in which Mr Biden warned that future US support for Israel in the war depends on swift implementation of new steps to protect civilians and aid workers.

There was no comment from Mr Netanyahu’s office on the latest call.

An Israeli delegation is expected in Egypt in the coming days to discuss the latest proposals in negotiations, and senior Hamas official Basem Naim said in a message to The Associated Press that a delegation from the militant group will also head to Cairo.

Egypt’s state-owned Al Qahera News satellite television channel said that the delegation would arrive on Monday.

Meanwhile, a senior official from key intermediary Qatar urged Israel and Hamas to show “more commitment and more seriousness” in negotiations set to take place in Cairo.

Qatar, which hosts Hamas’ headquarters in Doha, was instrumental along with the US and Egypt in helping negotiate a brief halt to the fighting in November that led to the release of dozens of hostages.

But in a sign of frustration, this month Qatar has said that it was reassessing its role.

The comments by Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majed al-Ansari in interviews with the liberal daily Haaretz and Israeli public broadcaster Kan were published and aired Saturday evening.

Al-Ansari expressed disappointment with Hamas and Israel, saying each side has made decisions based on political interests and not with civilians’ welfare in mind.

He didn’t reveal details on the talks other than to say they have “effectively stopped,” with “both sides entrenched in their positions.”

Al-Ansari’s remarks came after an Egyptian delegation discussed with Israeli officials a “new vision” for a prolonged ceasefire in Gaza, according to an Egyptian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss developments.

The Egyptian official said that Israeli officials are open to discussing establishing a permanent ceasefire in Gaza as part of the second phase of a deal.

Memorial service held for Zomi Frankcom

The second phase would start after the release of civilian and sick hostages, and would include negotiating the release of soldiers, the official added. Senior Palestinian prisoners would be released and a reconstruction process launched.

Israel has refused to end the war until it defeats Hamas.

Negotiations earlier this month centred on a six-week ceasefire proposal and the release of 40 civilian and sick hostages held by Hamas in exchange for freeing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

But White House national security spokesman John Kirby told US media that Israel “assured us they won’t go into Rafah until we’ve had a chance to really share our perspectives and concerns with them. So, we’ll see where that goes.”

The Israeli troop build-up may also be a pressure tactic on Hamas in talks.

Israel sees Rafah as Hamas’ last major stronghold. It vows to destroy the group’s military and governing capabilities.

Aid groups have warned that an invasion of Rafah would worsen the already desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza, where hunger is widespread.

About 400 tonnes of aid arrived on Sunday at the Israeli port of Ashdod — the largest shipment yet by sea via Cyprus — according to the United Arab Emirates.

It wasn’t immediately clear how or when it would be delivered into Gaza.

Also on Sunday, World Central Kitchen said that it would resume operations in Gaza on Monday, ending a four-week suspension after Israeli military drones killed seven of its aid workers, including Australian Zomi Frankcom.

The organisation has 276 trucks ready to enter through the Rafah crossing and will also send trucks into Gaza from Jordan, a statement said.

It’s also examining if the Ashdod port can be used to offload supplies.


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